Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Not fade away... a year on

Well, Steve....it's here....the first anniversary of your death.  

In some ways it feels like only yesterday - the memories of your last weekend are so vivid....watching England play Italy in the Six Nations rugby match; exchanging Valentine cards; making plans to convert the bedroom into a bedsit so you didn't have to climb stairs which you were finding a struggle; bringing you a cup of coffee in bed the next morning and listening as you told me about your dream, then returning a short while later to find you had taken your last breath....I still regret that I wasn't holding you in my arms at that time.

In other ways, it feels like a lifetime ago, so much has happened and so much has changed since then...

For the first six months or so, the challenge was getting through all the stuff that has to be sorted out when someone dies: notifying people and changing all things held jointly into my name; dealing with Probate and attending the Coroner's Inquest; deciding (or not deciding) what to do with your personal effects; trying to catch up with the urgent household stuff that had been put on hold as your health had deteriorated, and dealing with my own health issues.....

Over the last six months or so, I've been distancing myself from things like that, quite literally in one way, with lots of traveling (Italy, Romania, back to Italy, Cuba and Belgium, as well as staying with family and friends here in the UK).  

I've consciously distanced myself from mesothelioma too; stopped the google alerts, taken a long break from writing the blog, which is almost at a natural end anyway; not looked too closely at what's happening with the Meso Warriors in Facebook...news of other deaths from mesothelioma just stirred up all the negative emotions again - and there seemed to be so many: Andrew's Nancy, Amanda's Ray, Sue's Big G to name but a few - although the news that Mavis is still in remission brings me joy, and I am in total awe of Lou in Australia who just seems to keep going somehow, no matter what happens.

Throughout the last 12 months there have been emotional and poignant milestones; the first anniversaries of our significant dates.  

Your birthday last March was a quiet affair, just me and our kids Jack and Katie having a meal out.  In truth, I think we were all rather preoccupied with thoughts of your funeral which took place the day after, at 3pm on the third day of the third month.  Given your love of numbers, we thought you would appreciate that....

In May, the first wedding anniversary without you was spent in the company of photography friends in the Netherlands.  I had run away from home...just couldn't bear the thought of being in Oxford without you on that day.

I ran way again in July, to celebrate my birthday with Katie in Italy and meet up with our friends Giuseppe and Maria Adele in Rome.

In September, we scattered your ashes on the River Thames, to the north of Oxford. I carried you to the end of the street, then Martin your brother carried you the rest of the way, and we all walked (me, Jack and Katie, Martin and Mary) along the towpath for three miles or so, passing some of our favourite haunts and riverside pubs on the way, before finding a quiet spot for the little ceremony.  We end up at The Trout, where we had a lovely family meal and raised several glasses of fizz in your memory, before walking back home. 

I like to think of you, floating down the Thames, passing close by our house, through the centre of Oxford and on via Reading (one of the places you grew up) and London (where I grew up and Katie now lives), out into the ocean and on around the world, carried by tides and currents. 

The elements - fire, water, earth and air - were a recurring theme in your artwork.  On the way home after scattering your ashes, it struck me that your mortal remains had already passed through fire, air and water, so I completed their journey by burying the last few particles in the earth of the large pot in which the Japanese maple is growing, just outside the kitchen windows.  Its pink leaves and red stems light up the sideway in the spring, turn a beautiful fresh green in summer and glow yellow, orange and red like fire in the autumn.  A lovely reminder of you as the seasons pass.

In November, we scattered ashes on water again.  This time it was your mum's turn, in Bristol on the River Frome, and the occasion was marked by the family having tea and cake at the little refreshment kiosk at Snuff Mills.  Perhaps a little bit of you will be reunited with a little bit of your mum, one day somewhere out in the waters of the big wide world....

Knowing Christmas would never be the same without you, Jack, Katie and I opted for something completely different this year.  We rented a house in Bruges, went sight-seeing in Bruges and Ghent.  We enjoyed sampling gluhwein, waffles dipped in Belgian chocolate, frites dipped in mayonnaise and other local delicacies (but not all at the same time!) and I met up with photography friends while Jack and Katie explored Antwerp independently.  I think it helped us being somewhere completely different, but some things were still the same, including taking your thick, white walking socks to act as stockings for the kids' presents....

Our friend's Ian and Ruth came to my rescue on New Years Eve, organising a diner party with games so that I wasn't at home alone at the start of the year.  

Indeed, our friends have come to my rescue many times over the last 12 months, including me in invitations to events, meals and trips away in the UK, as well as offering and providing practical help and emotional support. My photography friends abroad have been wonderful too, not to mention other members of the family, especially those who live in Bristol whom I try to see when visiting Jack.  I am very fortunate to have such a good support network.

However, as a widowed friend of a friend said, "I have lots of people to do things with, but no one to do nothing with." And that's how it feels sometimes.  I still find it strange to come home to an empty house.  I'm still not used to the sound of silence (music is played more often now, as is the radio.) Cooking for one doesn't feel right ....perhaps I should invite people round for a meal more often.

I know from the phone calls, messages and cards that many of our friends have been thinking of me - and you - as the first anniversary of your death approaches.  They say I have been strong, but I have probably cried more in the last couple of weeks than during the last six months put together, knowing that this day was approaching.  

What is it about anniversaries?  They are just dates...days like any other day; they come; they go.  But they are a trigger for memories, happy and sad, the good times and the bad, and times for joy, quiet reflection or celebrations, depending on the occasion...I suppose it's because they are important personal milestones which mark the passage of time in our lives, that we cannot let them pass without acknowledging them in some way.

Even with family and good friends to support me, it goes without saying that I still miss you, even though its been a year now and life goes on regardless.

I miss the physical stuff...your presence, your touch; our morning and goodnight kisses; holding hands and having cuddles; dancing with you...  

I miss the sound of your voice; your laughter; your smile; the twinkle in your eye; your enthusiasm; your creativity...

I miss hearing your opinions - even though I didn't agree with all of them.  I miss your delight at solving a particularly tricky cryptic crossword puzzle and your patience when you had to explain some of the clues and answers to me - crossword puzzles have never been my forte.  I even miss those occasions when tensions had built up and you would loose your temper like an explosion, but you would calm down so quickly after letting off steam, rather than sulking...

I miss your practical help....my chauffeur has gone, along with the car; my IT consultant is missing (although Jack is a good substitute); I no longer have my design consultant (although Katie steps into your shoes when needed).  There's no one to advise me about the right screws and rawl plugs to use when putting things up on walls, hold the bottom of the ladder or the other end of a tape measure.  Google can fill the gaps in my knowledge but can't help to fold a king size duvet cover, which is a lot easier when there are two of you!  And of course, you were always much better at housework than me....

Until today, my last emotional milestone in the year since your death was yesterday - Valentine's day.  For more than four decades, I have received a handmade, personal Valentine card from you on this day.  I still have them all.  Looking back now, the card you gave me last year feels like premonition...why else choose the theme "Not Fade Away" inspired by the sixties song sung by the Stones and Buddy Holly.  


Of course, there was no Valentine card from you this year. But last year's card still sits on the mantlepiece in pride of place. The last creative act you did, the day before you died.  The ink may fade but the sentiment will not. 

I used to be a bit sceptical when people said they thought about their lost loved ones every day.  Now I get it.  It's not that you occupy my waking thoughts, all day, every day.  But after sharing our lives for more than four decades, you are woven into the fabric of my personal history and the lives of our children.  That doesn't stop, or cease to exist, simply because you have died.  

Having lived in the same house for so long, there are also many physical reminders of you everywhere, from the odd notes written in your hand scattered around the house, to your art work on the walls and the kitchen cupboards you built over 20 years ago...not to mention those personal effects which are still around....some now in use by me, others put away in a memory box, some still awaiting a decision or action.  

And so..it's arrived at last. The day I have been dreading. This time last year, there was pandemonium in the house, with so people coming and going - medics, GP, Police, the hospice nurse, undertakers.  Katie returning from a refresher driving lesson wondering why there was an ambulance in the street outside; having to tell he that her dad had just died.  Then having to tell Jack the same, by phone....then the rest of the family and close friends. There were tears, tears and more tears...No wonder I have been dreading this anniversary.....  

But now it's dawned, unlike last year, I feel strangely calm and peaceful, which has come as a bit of a surprise.  It's only the start of the day, I know....it maybe different when Katie arrives later....But we have made it this far, in spite of the overwhelming feelings of loss and grief which engulfed us this time last year and for a long time afterwards.

I still find it difficult to look very far ahead into the future. Nearly 7 years of not thinking beyond the date of your three monthly hospital assessment is a hard habit to break.  But now there are plans in the pipeline up until July, when Jack will once again be riding the Etape, the mountain stage of the Tour de France open to non-professionals.  I will be there as the support team this year!  

Between then and now, there is more traveling...picking up again on our extended grown up gap year so rudely interrupted in June 2009 when you were diagnosed with mesothelioma and told the average life expectancy was 12-18 months.  Belgium calls in March, followed by work in Guernsey, then a big trip to Namibia and shorter trips to Scotland and Portugal.

But apart from travel and photography, I have little idea where my life is going at the moment. There is no clear direction of travel. I am reluctant to make regular commitments.  I'm still living very much in the day. That's the inheritance of living with a mesothelioma diagnosis for so long.  Perhaps I shouldn't worry about it, but just carry on going with the flow....

However, there is one thing I want to progress this year, and that's the idea of commissioning an artwork as a permanent memorial to you to be installed at a place nearby where lots of people can see and enjoy it.  That can be my mission for 2017.  When it comes to fruition, I'll post another blog entry.

Until then, or until the next significant event or anniversary, in the words of the song "A love for real not fade away..."












Saturday, 23 July 2016

Jack's big bike ride in Steve's memory

As I write, the Tour de France cycle ride has reached stage 20 - a mountain stage in the French Alps between Megeve and Morzine - around 146 km, with four big climbs (and descents) along the route.  It's the last mountain stage of Le Tour 2016, and a tough one even for professional riders.  Catch it on Channel 4 right now if you are in the UK!  

My son Jack cycled this section - known as L'Etape du Tour - three weeks ago, when it was open to non-professional riders, in memory of his father, my husband Steve, who died in February some seven years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

I'm delighted and very proud to say that Jack finished the official course along with his two teammates David and Gair, and they even cycled a bit further to make up for the fact that the official route was shortened due to the risk of rockfalls on one mountain section.  

I'm also relieved to say that they all came home in one piece and recovered quickly.

And I'm absolutely delighted that Jack's efforts have already raised over £1800 for Mesothelioma UK, a charity which supported us through Steve's cancer.  

Jack's Just Giving page is still open for donations.  You can access by clicking THIS LINK! 

Well done Jack and all the others who took part.  You are all very wonderful!  

And another big thank you to all of you who generously sponsored his ride in Steve's memory.  

You are all very wonderful too :)


Now enjoy some photos of the big bike ride !!


















Friday, 8 July 2016

The Coroner's Inquest

The Coroner's Inquest into Steve's death took place on Wednesday, 6 July.  Such inquests are routine in the UK when someone dies as a result of mesothelioma, because it's usually caused by exposure to asbestos in the course of employment and is therefore classed as an "industrial injury"....something which could have been prevented had the proper safety procedures been in place.  

In the past, mesothelioma has mainly affected been people working in industry, the building trades and manufacturing - ship builders, boiler makers, carpenters, electricians, people in the railway and automotive industry and such like.  However, there is an increasing number of cases where exposure has been second hand e.g wives washing husband's contaminated clothes, children hugging parents with dusty clothes, or has arisen in the teaching environment because of the number of educational establishments built during the 50s and 60s when asbestos products were widely used and which have become disturbed over a period of time, exposing teachers, pupils and others in schools.  Google "Asbestos in Schools" if you want to know more about this.

As an architect and artist, Steve's employment history didn't fall neatly into any of the above categories, so there was always a chance that his death would not be classed as an industrial injury when the evidence was placed before the Coroner, even though we had a clear idea about the circumstances of his exposure in the early 1970s.  So I felt that I had to go to the Inquest, even though there was no requirement to attend.

Inquests in the UK are formal legal procedures.  They take place in a courtroom with all the associated legal niceties, such as standing up when the Coroner enters, the reading out of evidence and the recording of the procedures.  I have to say however, that the Coroner, the Coroner's officer, the court officials and the Coroner's Court volunteers were kindness personified.  I couldn't have asked for a more sensitive and supportive approach from those involved.  Nevertheless it was tough.

I have lost count of the number of Hearings, Inquiries and Examinations in public I have run personally in the course of my professional career, so the legal nature of the proceedings didn't bother me at all. Been there. Done that. Knew what to expect.  

The Inquest took place some five months after Steve's death, so the process of healing after the grieving has already started.  In recent times, I have been able to talk to people about Steve's death without dissolving into tears.  I thought I could handle it on my own, and declined the offers by two dear friends to come with me on the day.  I was treating the Inquest as a formality - important to ensure the record was correct, but otherwise not a big deal.

I had written sone of the evidence myself and had seen all the evidence submitted by others.  None of its was unexpected; there were no nasty surprises lurking in the words. I was prepared. Or so I thought....

What I was not expecting and was not prepared for, was the tidal wave of emotion which swept over me as I entered the building.  Suddenly, this was real.  It was official.  It was important.  The tears were welling up, even as I was introduced to the Coroner's Court volunteer who was there to support me.  I declined the offer of coffee and by the time we entered the "Family Room" tears were streaming down my face.  It was like the pressure valve had blown and the tap of emotion was running wide open. My reaction surprised me.  There I was.... thinking I could deal with the event in a cool, professional manner as if I was at work, and instead I found myself in tears and the Inquest had not even started.

I began to understand the importance of the volunteer's role.  She was wonderful.  From finding me a box of tissues to reassuring me that my reaction was entirely "normal" in the circumstances. We had a quick peep in the Court Room, so I knew what to expect....not an unfamiliar set up to someone who has been to Council meetings and run planning appeal hearings.  The Court Officer appeared next to explain the procedure, and to tell me that the press were present.  I said I didn't wants to talk to the press (indeed, I could hardly string two words together at that stage and was fearful that I might say something in haste to a reporter that I would later regret...)

When I was ready, we entered the Court and sat down at the front, facing the Bench, waiting for the Coroner to arrive, when we all asked to stand up.  

To put it simply, the Coroner has to ask and answer four questions about the death.  Who? When? Where? How?  The answers to the first three questions are usually easy.  Steve was identified by name, date and place of birth and death based on my evidence and that of the paramedic and GP who attended of the morning of his death at home.  However, it was a bit harrowing hearing the evidence read out...I found myself vividly reliving that morning again....

The how question was more complicated - first, there was evidence about his diagnosis and treatment, including all the clinical trials he had taken part in as well,as the chemotherapy, radiotherapy and pleurodesis he had undergone as part of his palliative treatment....then his employment history, including details of the event which we believed led to his exposure to asbestos as a student, when he was part of a group paid cash for a vacation job in 1971 knocking down walls at the School of Architecture where he studied, to create a large open plan studio.  Plus, of course, the building surveys he carried out as an architectural assistant where he may have been exposed to asbestos dust in service ducts and boiler houses and such like.  

I have written about all this stuff in the blog over the last seven years, and talked about it endlessly with anyone who asked or would listen, so it wasn't news.  However, hearing someone read it out in a Court of Law took me back in time, and it was upsetting.  The good bits ....about all the traveling we had done, the socialising, the creativity and the experiences we had enjoyed since diagnosis....were not there.  It was just all the bad, challenging, difficult bits of our lives since diagnosis to death...the bits you try to forget.  But it had to be said.

Having gone through the evidence, the Coroner gave her verdict.  Steve's death WAS a result of an "Industrial Injury" and would be recorded as such.  In summing up, she paid tribute to Steve's courage taking part in clinical trials which would help others in future, even though they didn't save his life.  That was nice of her.  

I am pleased with the verdict, although acknowledging that his death was avoidable made me angry, upset and frustrated in equal measure.  The chances are he would still be alive today, had it not been for events in the early 1970s.  That hurts.  That's not fair.  That should not have happened.  That was avoidable.  That's why it's taken my a while to write this blog post.  

I was too upset when faced again with the stark reality which I've known since 2009 but have somehow managed to overlay with positive experiences and thoughts...which was the way we got through and somehow managed to enjoy almost seven years life together after hearing the worst possible news.

However, I have now spent a couple of days calming down, reflecting, enjoying the garden and taking my frustration out on wall paper stripping as part of the bedroom refurbishment which is my next house project. Now I feel ready to share with you. 

This phase of Steve's story is nearly over.  Now the Corner has given her verdict, the information will be passed on to the Registrar of Birth, Deaths and Marriages, who will certify the death.  I can buy the Death Certificate (up to now, I've been using an interim death certificate for probate and related purposes).  That's my next little job, then I file the paperwork away for future generations.

Steve is now an official Industrial Injury statistic as well as a certified death.  

Time to look forward...be sociable, creative, travel, enjoy family, friends and Jack's Etape du Tour on Sunday in Steve's memory, raising funds for Mesothelioma UK.  

Allez Jack!  Good luck!!!








Sunday, 3 July 2016

It's almost time.....

This time next week, my son Jack will be cycling a stage of the Tour de France (L'Etape du Tour) in memory of Steve who died in February, and to raise money for Mesothelioma UK - a charity which supports people diagnosed with the cancer that killed Steve, and their loved ones.   

Many thanks to all of you who have sponsored him so far!  If you have been meaning to make a donation but haven't got round to it, there's still time....Please click on this link to his JustGiving page 

If you want to know what he's let himself in for, then please read on....  

It takes a lot of courage, bravery, grit and determination (or stupidity, according to Jack!) to do this feat especially if - like him - you are not a professional cyclist.  

The distance is 146.5 kilometres; the steepest gradient is 8.5% and there are no less than four mountains to climb (and descend...the really scary bit) 

Even the guys who do it for a living find it hard going!  You can watch the professionals ride this stage of the Tour on Saturday 23 July.  

Jack will be doing his cycle ride over exactly the same course on Sunday 10 July, along with team mates David Gillet and Gair McAdie.

Good luck Jack and the rest of the team!!  

Stage 20 Megève to Morzine


The pattern of recent Tours is followed with a major mountain stage in the Alps the day before the finish. This has a twist, however, as the finish is at the foot of one of the nastiest descents the Tour uses, the 14km of twists and turns off the Col de Joux-Plane. There are three earlier climbs before the final shootout, which will favour a sublime descender such as Vincenzo Nibali or Bardet rather than Froome.




Wednesday, 15 June 2016

More baby steps forward on a special anniversary

Spoiler alert
Some of you may find the section "Homecoming" upsetting


An anniversary

7 years ago today, Steve was told he had mesothelioma and that his life expectancy was in the region of 12-18 months. In fact, he outlived that estimate by many years...it's only four months and a day since he died.  

Since then, I have been taking baby steps forward on many fronts - the red tape you have to deal with when anyone dies; the emotional impact of loosing a loved one (even if you knew it was coming); learning how to live on your own, in my case for the first time in my life....until recently, I have always lived with others - parents, shared student houses, with Steve and our family.  But I'm getting there, slowly but surely.

Probate and related matters

I had thought twice about dealing with probate on my own.  It all sounds a bit scary at first!  However, our wills were straight forward, with no legal complications, special bequests  or trusts - we each just left everything to the surviving spouse. And gifts between spouses are Inheritance Tax free in the UK, which makes the process relatively easy, if time consuming, as you still have to jump through many of the same hoops.

It became clear quite early on that the biggest job in obtaining grant of probate would be to value Steve's "estate" i.e. everything he owned solely or jointly.  It was also clear that I would have to gather that information myself to pass on to a solicitor, if I wanted someone else to make the probate application on my behalf.  But I'm an intelligent woman, used to dealing with bureaucracy, paperwork and filling in forms. So I decided on a DIY probate application, knowing that it could be passed on to a solicitor if it all got too much.

Estate agents will value property for free for probate purposes.  You can get a vehicle valued online if you know the year, make, model and mileage.  I employed a specialist firm to value "goods, chattels and personal belongings".  It cost a bit, but had I done it myself, I probably would have valued everything higher than I could realistically sell it for, due to my lack of experience....The accountant valued the business.  Onsey Lock Hydro confirmed the value of Steve's shares in this community-based green energy scheme which we both subscribed to.  The bank, insurance company and NS&I provided detailed written breakdowns of Steve's current and savings accounts and investments.  

When all this information has been collected, its a relatively easy matter to find and complete complete the forms online, via the gov.uk website (search on IHT forms and guidance).  I used the telephone Helpline once to clarify something I was unsure about.  It didn't take long to get through, and the chap I spoke to was very helpful.  

Once completed, I dropped off the forms at the local Probate Office.  About a week later I received an email saying that the papers had been examined, and the next step was to swear (or affirm) an affidavit that all the information I'd provided was correct to the best of my knowledge.  You can do this for free at the Probate Registry, during public opening hours, or pay to "swear" at a solicitors office.  It only takes a few minutes, reading words from a card. Grant of Probate came through less than 10 working days later.

Tomorrow, I will take the Grant of Probate to the bank and open up an Executor's account which will allow me to pay Steve's "debts" - a DWP overpayment of Attendance Allowance after his death; the accountant's fees for completing his tax return, my own expenses involved in dealing with probate. The balance of his assets can then be transferred to me, as his sole beneficiary. 

I can also send copies of the Grant of Probate to bodies which hold his other assets, to get those transferred to me. The house which had been in our joint names is now in my name only.  This is easy to do via a form which you can download from the Land Registry website.  Transferring ownership of the car was also a doddle and DVLA promptly refunded the unused proportion of the road fund license, which was a nice surprise. 

So...lots of paperwork, but actually not that difficult.  And having saved around £5,000 on solicitors fees (the amount I'd been quoted when visiting to get certified copies of his Will), I've treated myself to a trip to Cuba later this year, at the end of the hurricane season.  I'm sure Steve would have approved.  So sad that he won't be there with me to enjoy it...

The Coroner's Inquest

One of the more difficult tasks, emotionally anyway, was collecting information to send to the Coroner's Office ready for the Inquest to establish whether his exposure to asbestos should be recorded as an industrial injury.  Luckily, we had done some investigative work on this few years back, when considering a claim for compensation through the Courts.  In the event, that claim was not pursued, but I still had electronic access to Steve's statements and comments, so was able to send those documents to the Coroner's Officer.  

The Inquest will now go ahead on 6 July.  It's not to "apportion blame" or get compensation for negligence, just to establish whether his death should be classed as an industrial injury.  All mesothelioma deaths go through the same process.  I will attend, but will not be required to speak. It will be difficult, I imagine...but it's important that the cause of his death is properly recorded, as it shows the impact of negligence on innocent people's lives.

Dealing with Steve's clothes and other personal belongings

This has been very difficult for me....every item I pick up has memories.  But there's no point in hanging on to something that will never be worn or used again by me or a member of the family.  Some small things have gone into the "memory box" and more will follow I'm sure...But I have started donating other things, like clothes and shoes, to charity.  

In the end, for every item of Steve's put into the charity bag, I added something of my own, which didn't make it feel so bad. Knowing this stuff is supporting good causes also helps. And it's the start of a good declutter which is much needed.  Still a long way to go on this front, but I've begun....

Dealing with the emotional side of things

To put it simply, this takes time.  I don't consciously think about Steve everyday, but there is usually something that triggers thoughts of him and memories, both happy and sad....often when people are nice to me, or see me for the first time since his death.  Arms go out in a big hug and I find myself dissolving in tears as we share our sadness.  But that is happening less and less, as time passes. Nevertheless, the triggers are still there...

...On  Saturday, I went out for a walk and found myself at an art fair, particularly attracted to one artist's work which I recognised as images inspired by the Languedoc in France, Seville in Spain and Marrakech in Morocco - all places Steve and I have visited since his diagnosis.  The artwork brought back many happy memories but also stirred up the emotions. In the end, I had to walk away as I could feel myself welling up. However, I returned later that day and bought three prints, much to the artist's delight! Once framed and hung, they will bring some Mediterranean sunshine and vibrant colour into the house. 

Next week, I will be meeting up with Andrew, visiting the UK from the States.  Steve and I met Andrew and his wife Nancy a couple of years ago through a mutual meso friend, Lou in Australia.  We had tea on the roof terrace of the Ashmolean Museum and found we had much in common.  Sadly Nancy died of mesothelioma not long before Steve, so no doubt the next reunion now as widow and widower will be a little bit emotional, but I'm sure we'll have some laughs too :)

As always, I get by with a little help from my friends (and family)!


A homecoming

Steve's funeral was in March, the day after his birthday.  It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to collect his ashes from the Funeral Directors office.  In the end, I set out on foot on a lovely sunny day, without giving much thought to the practicalities of what I was about to do....just  relieved that I had finally made the move.  

The reality is that the ashes of a person's mortal remains are quite heavy.  It wasn't till I started walking home that I realised how just heavy over a long distance, especially if you have back problems like me.  In the end, I caught a bus, and sat with the "In Memoriam" carrier bag with its precious load of ashes in a Scatter Tube on my lap, wondering if people had noticed and guessed what it was....But no one said anything, so I didn't have face awkward questions or looks of sympathy from complete strangers.  

So..he's home now.  Or at least his mortal remains are. Moving from room to room, depending on whose staying in the house and where they are sleeping.  I know this sounds silly and irrational, but I can understand why people might feel just a bit uneasy sleeping in the same room as the ashes of a family member or close friend.  In some ways, it also feels a little bit disrespectful, moving his physical remains around the house in a carrier bag, albeit a very tasteful one. Not that Steve would mind, I'm sure....he would probably just laugh and tell us to make a decision about where to scatter what's left of him and fix a date. So that's what we must do. 

Of course, there will be a permanent memorial to his memory - probably a public artwork somewhere nearby that lots of people can enjoy.  He'd like that.  The germ of the idea has already been sown and I will make sure it's nurtured and flourishes to fruition in the fullness of time. 

Cycling and walking 

Son Jack is now training hard for the Etape bike ride in the Alps - a mountain stage of the Tour de France that's open to amateur cyclists.  His doing it in Steve's memory and in the process raising a lot of money for the charity Mesothelioma UK, which is great!  

The event takes place on 10 July, only a few days after the Coroner's Inquest into Steve's death.  I will probably do a blog post about both in due course. 

Meanwhile, I am walking myself back to happiness aiming to do at least 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) each day and succeeding most days (although not yesterday, when I took it easy after a dental implant....) 

It seems to be helping my back, helping me loose weight and helping me get fitter.  And its lovely being out and about when the weather is good....


Being sociable

A big thank you to family and friends for your social invitations - meals together, cinema trips, theatre visits, days out, weeks and weekends away - it's really helping me get my life back on track.... Travel plans for the next few months are coming together nicely also - the worldwide travel insurance I took out in May will be earning its keep!

And thinking of the Meso Warriors

As always, the Meso Warriors and their families and friends are in my thoughts, those who are celebrating good news like Mavis and Ray, Claire and Paul, and those who are waiting for or still going through treatment, like Ray and Amanda, Lou and Keith....Not forgetting those who have lost their loved ones to this preventable disease.  Sending you all a big group hug :)  



Saturday, 4 June 2016

Gearing up for the big bike ride

Regular readers of the blog will be aware that in July my son Jack is riding L'Etape du Tour (a mountain stage of the Tour de France open to non-professional cyclists). He is doing it to fundraise for Mesothelioma UK in memory of his dad, my husband Steve, who died in February this year six years and eight months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. 

This isn't the sort of project you go into cold (unless you are crazy!)

Jack has been gearing up for the big bike ride with a training regime that has included cycling between his home in Bristol and mine in Oxford more than once, along with other long rides, and a "sportive" in Wales tomorrow to get used to them there hills....

Many of you have kindly sponsored him already.  So far he has raised around £1500, including off line donations, which is amazing!  Thank you all so much x

You can follow fundraising progress on his Just Giving page by clicking HERE!

Below is the story of his training so far....

My next update to the blog will be posted on 16 June, the 7th anniversary of Steve's diagnosis, with news of a homecoming, probate and the coroners inquest along with other relevant bits and pieces that have happened since my last post.  

In the meantime, sit back, enjoy reading Jack's blog post below, follow his training regime on Strava by clicking here and thank your lucky stars that it's not you cycling 146 km up, over and down four big mountains in around four weeks time!   

Etape Training – Early Days Recap (1)

So last year in a fit of madness and bike related hubris I signed up for the Etape du Tour on 10 July 2016 and this is first of a series of blog posts where I attempt to chronicle the experience and shamelessly solicit for sponsorship money!

Setting the Scene

The Etape is where rank amateurs up to semi-pros tackle a stage of Tour de France a few weeks before the professionals ride over it. Closed roads, feed stations, broom wagons for the dying, the whole caboodle. Indeed, the Etape is generally acknowledged as the pinnacle of the cycling Sportive calendar, due it the participation numbers, route toughness and its draw on the mythos surrounding the Tour itself.
Tour-de-France
Pic 1 – The Peloton sweeps through the south of France  [official tour media]
They generally set the Etape on one of the Tour’s more challenging mountain stages and this year is no exception as we will be riding the Queen Stage – 20: Megève to Morzine. I’ll look at the stage in more depth in a later post, but suffice to say its 89 miles – which is fairly middling in Sportive terms – but it is around 8000 metres of climbing that is the real foe.
Allez, allez, allez!

About Me

I’m a reasonable fit person, pretty competitive and have completed one  Sportive before – the not inconsiderable Dragon. However, I’m not even a club cyclist and let my cycling slip for various reasons post-Dragon back to a resounding zero. To be honest, I’m much more of an explore interesting places and country lanes on a mountain bike type rather than a tapping out a high tempo ride on a carbon beast, bedecked in lycra and all the gadgets. So this will be a challenge to up my cycling game without losing the sense of fun.

Small Beginnings

I started off the year doing a lot more running than cycling due to the weather and often being in different locations to my bikes, so was in the strange position of starting my Etape training being a lot better runner than cyclist. Up to early April (the magic 3 months to go panic point) the plan was simply to slowly increase the length and speed of cycling trips, roughly alternating between faster short trips and longer expeditions. Principal aim:  try not to break myself with too bad an injury in the early days of the season as I get some miles in my legs.
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Pic 2 – Ashton Court’s Giant Head near the beginning of a jaunt along the Strawberry Line
To this effect the start of year saw me heading off to Severnside, cycling round sections Avonmouth still under construction with heavy duty roads, industrial backdrop and nothing else bar yet to be developed, blasted levels. A weird experience akin to the feeling of seeing old power stations on abandoned coasts.
Other more normal places included the Strawberry line; Radstock / Frome, the Kennet & Avon Canal and the ever reliable quick dash to Bath and back, all the while offering a quick prayer of thanks to that most giving of Gods, Sustrans, and its many glorious cycle paths around Bristol. No killer distances, but a nice steady increase when looking back on the training log.
Oh, and I saw a couple rowing a sinking bath tub down the canal at Avoncliffe and didn’t get a photo. Such is Avonlife.

Get Involved Blurb!

If you would like to support my effort and a great cancer charity in Mesothelioma UK you  can sponsor me here. All donations greatly received! You can see my progress on the rather wonderful Strave app here if you’re feeling curious.
Next time out – picking up the pace(ish) and the Lionheart Sportive.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Three months on and a lifetime later

It's three months to the day since Steve died.  In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, so much has happened since then.  In other ways, it seems like only yesterday....the events of 15 February are etched on my memory like a video...

Not surprisingly, I still have moments - usually triggered by something trivial or unexpected - when the tears well up and the sense of loss is almost overwhelming.  But I'm moving on in many other ways, even though at times it feels like progress is horribly and frustratingly slow, not helped I suspect by the daily pain medication for my back (nerve root compression) which fogs the brain at times and can make me feel drowsy.

However, I have found that getting out and about, doing things and being with people to be a great tonic and stimulation.  So...

....I've exercised my brain with a couple of work-related trips to Guernsey; exercised my body walking around Dordrecht and Rotterdam on a week away in the Netherlands, where I had the pleasure of meeting up with "old" photography friends and making some new ones (as well as taking lots of photos!);  enjoyed other wonderful social occasions - a meal out with friends from student days at Worton Organic Garden; two very special birthday lunches with dear friends Sally and Ian; an evening meal with other friends; nights out at events like Live Friday and visiting the Warhol exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum; enjoying visiting artist studios open as part of Oxford Artworks; having a great weekend visit here in Oxford with Andy a friend from my student days; going to London to see the World Photography Exhibition at Somerset House....And there are lots more such occasions in the pipeline!

I've also invested in worldwide annual travel insurance, so I need to make the most of it now :)

Son Jack and daughter Katie have been visiting Oxford regularly from their respective homes in Bristol and London and we've got through some of those difficult 'first' events without Steve - the first anniversary of his birthday since his death; the first wedding anniversary without him; Katie's first birthday without her dad, and the special card he would have made to celebrate the occasion....

Jack has helped me set up a new computer and I hope that, by now, all my friend are aware of my new gmail address and are ignoring any emails which purport to come from my old email address.  This has been hacked and is suspended...so PLEASE do NOT use it or click on any links on such emails which say they are from me at my old NTLworld address....they are still going out!!!!

All Steve's "assets" have now been valued and I think that at long last I have all the information necessary to complete Steve's estate accounts and apply for Grant of Probate....that's the priority for next week.

Jack is now training hard for his Etape du Tour cycle ride in July to raise money for Mesothelioma UK in Steve's memory. He recently did the return trip by bike from Bristol to Oxford carrying a heavy pack. The return journey clocked up 120 miles.  The boy done well!  More of that in a future post, so that those of you who have kindly and generously sponsored him will see how hard he is working...

...and so life goes on....

Big hugs to all the Meso Warriors, their families and friends and to all the wonderful people who have helped me, Jack and Katie get through the first three months since Steve died.  

Thank you all, so very much xx